Today a friend bid goodbye to her dog. And today I made the awful appointment to end Shakespeare’s days with us.
I have much to be grateful for. He was given as little as 3 weeks to live when diagnosed, and today marks the 7th week. He’s positively ancient for his breed; if I had his pedigree, he could have received a longevity award nearly 4 years ago, and aside from the cancer he’s physically in better shape than other Dobermans I’ve seen his age. And despite all that I’ve read and heard about the horrid pain of bone cancer, Shakespeare seems to be in fairly little discomfort, which is an answer to prayer.
But that makes it hard, too. He’s not in severe pain. He’s still enjoying his life, chilling on the couch or sunning himself in our early autumn weather. How can I take that away from him?
Shakespeare’s lying on his couch right now — yes, it’s his couch, but he’s kind enough to share it with others — and he has no idea why I’m crying. He doesn’t remember that while he still gets excited about dinner, he’s no longer yodeling much and he’s having trouble chewing. That it’s getting hard to give him his pills because he drops things so often. That he’s having more trouble drinking water.
My best guess is that he’s lost some or much feeling in his mouth or tongue. He still smells tasty treats, but he doesn’t seem to have as much mouth control, and he drops pieces. And I am scared by his trouble drinking. What if he can’t get the water he needs, and he starts to dehydrate? I don’t want him in distress, and I don’t want him to linger in a clinic on IVs while we wait hours for my husband to rush home. I’d rather his last day be peaceful and happy.
So I’ve gotten a recommendation for a vet who will come to our house. Shakespeare won’t even have to leave his couch. Friday my husband will be home, and we’ll say goodbye.
“In [God's] hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.”
I believe animals have souls just as we do. I don’t pretend to know much about how they pass on, “Dogs Who Know the Lord” (a Christian comic strip of the 80s and 90s satirizing Christian subculture) aside, but I think they matter to God, too. And while that doesn’t make it any easier, it helps.
I am sad that I can’t take many final pictures of Shakespeare; all photos of the last month or so show a distorted, misshapen dog where the cancer has deformed his jaw, just a narrow window of what he has looked like among the whole of his life. I’m glad I have earlier photos, and artwork by my sister Alena and even by a street artist in Japan, commissioned by a friend. I wish I had more higher-quality photos, though.
I didn’t choose Shakespeare. A man walked in with a young Doberman, and from the moment I saw them I had the oddest feeling that he had my dog on his leash. It was… really disconcerting. And they did a basic class, and a few weeks later the man told me that he was giving up the dog. (He wasn’t a bad owner — he had two jobs plus night classes, and he was raising two kids as a single parent. He didn’t have time for an adolescent high-energy dog which he had literally just been handed by a stranger.) And he wanted me to know before the dog went into the shelter for adoption, because he had a feeling I’d take him.
And I did.
A lot of people won’t remember Shakespeare, though he had a bit of a fan club when we were more active. He has, what, 26 titles and achievements? and did demos and greetings with over 6,000 handicapped and at-risk students over 4 summers. He twice played “Sandy” in the stage musical Annie (where, despite the horror of some parents that their children were working with a Doberman, the “orphanage girls” quickly began making and bringing him special treats and gifts).
Shakespeare was my first all-clicker dog. He adored shaping and gave demonstrations in training classes, trainer education courses, parks, even furniture and sporting goods stores. He attended the very first ClickerExpo in 2003 and won a prize at the Clicker Challenge there. And he stepped up one night (en route to that same ClickerExpo) when two men seemed to be trying to trap me in an empty restroom.
In short, he’s a good boy. And I promised him that his fourth home would be his last. And he’s been here since 2000, and I’m going to make good on that promise. And then I’m going to miss him. A lot.